The Dead


James Joyce

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Grey Symbol Analysis

Grey Symbol Icon

The color grey is used repeatedly to represent death. The most common instance of this symbol is in Joyce’s descriptions of Gabriel’s Aunt Julia. Julia has grey hair and a grey face, and has “not aged well.” It seems this is not only true physically, but mentally as well. She often seems confused and wears an expression that gives her the appearance of “a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going.” The use of grey as a symbol for death is reinforced at the end of the text when Gabriel imagines returning to the same house for Aunt Julia’s funeral. Soon after. Gabriel feels his own identity “fading into a grey impalpable world,” meaning the world of the dead.

Grey Quotes in The Dead

The The Dead quotes below all refer to the symbol of Grey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of The Dead published in 1993.
Section 3 Quotes

The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead…His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

Related Characters: Gabriel Conroy
Related Symbols: Light and Dark, Grey
Page Number: 224–225
Explanation and Analysis:
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Grey Symbol Timeline in The Dead

The timeline below shows where the symbol Grey appears in The Dead. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
Death Theme Icon
Women and Society Theme Icon
...very musical: Mary Jane plays the organ at Haddington Road; Julia, though she is “quite grey,” is the leading soprano in a church; and Kate gives music lessons from home. (full context)
Jealousy and Male Pride Theme Icon
Death Theme Icon
Ireland, Anti-Nationalism, and the Foreign Theme Icon
...interrupt Gabriel’s thoughts as they exit the dressing room. Aunt Julia’s face and hair are grey, and Gabriel notices that her slow, confused nature gives her the appearance of someone who... (full context)
Section 3
Death Theme Icon
...close to the world of the dead, and feels his own identity fading into this “grey impalpable world.” He hears snow falling against the windowpane and turns to see “silver and... (full context)